As I walk into the classroom, roll out my mat and take a comfortable seat, the teacher is already sitting there, looking peaceful and serene, smiling warmly but seemingly unaffected by all the movement in the shala. I managed to get out of the office early and have exactly 60 minutes before I need to run off to meet my friends for dinner. I just might skip savasana…
There is a welcome, an introduction and we are told what the 90-minute practice is going to look like. There is mention of meditation and I feel a shift in the room, a restless sense of wonder and dread, a question mark hanging unattended over our heads. Something resembling annoyance possibly. This is not meditation class, this is hot-power-vinyasa-flow, if I want to sit and think of nothing I will do that in my own time! Now, I just want to get my sweat on!
As they walk into the classroom, roll out their mats and take a seat, I watch them glancing around, I see each and every one of the students, measuring me up, checking out fellow students and anxious to get going. They managed to get out of the office at a reasonable time, have kids to pick up, respective partners to meet for date night and many, many other activities planned for the rest of the night. I see one of them considering skipping savasana already…
I do my best not to let their anxious energy affect me and maintain my serenity as I welcome every student and lay out the land for the coming 90 minutes. As I mention “meditation” I feel the expected shift in the room. The fear and impatience and something resembling annoyance. This is not meditation class, this is hot-power-vinyasa, they want to get their sweat on.
I persist, I always include a meditation in my class. Sometimes at the beginning, sometimes at the end. Sometimes short and sweet, sometimes bringing a little challenge to the class and letting them simmer for a few minutes longer…
Why, you ask.. these students came to get their sweat on! Why would you force your mindful nonsense on unsuspecting “vinyasins”?
The answer lies in another question; “Why do we practice yoga?
The Patanjala yogin practices according to the Yoga Sutras. The little text consisting of 194 gems about yoga sadhana is one of the most popular texts in the yoga world today. Most of the emphasis lies in the eight limbs of yoga, or Ashtanga. And even though we are far removed from the lives and practices of those who committed themselves fully to their practice, it is noteworthy that out of these eight limbs of yoga, four are various forms of meditation, not considering that asana is really only the seated meditation posture and that pranayama is really a meditation practice as well. So how did we turn that into a 45-minute flow to work those abs?
The Tantra tradition is considered by many to be the source of postural yoga as we know it today. Tantric meditation uses several techniques to help us “pierce the veil” that obscures our awareness of limitless potential. Using asana to stabilise the pelvic floor and increase flexibility and stability in the spinal column. Followed by pranayama to calm the nervous system and bring fluidity to the movement of energy. Then follows Samyama: the combined practice of Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (experience of pure consciousness).
The ultimate goal of the practice of yoga is what? Getting ripped? Working that booty? Getting those perfect abs over the age of 40? Or is that really just a byproduct of rigorous practice to prepare the body for meditation? Have we “evolved” so much that we have lost track of why it is that we get on our mats everyday? Is it perhaps because meditative postures generate far less insta-likes than a funky arm balance.
Scientifically proven benefits of meditation are many and well known. Some of those benefits are very much the same as the ones we find in an asana practice. Focus, concentration, mindfulness, inner stillness or peace. Good health, ridding ourselves of anxiety, stress and other health issues. And yes, sometimes asana is just what we need as a window to meditation practice.
If you are like me, a restless mind, having difficulty directing the million thoughts per second into a productive single point focus, movement might just be what you need to get started. But that is exactly what it is, getting started. 45 minutes of flowing your ass to a size and shape more to your wishes, accompanied by music and my incessant talking is a start, but further advancement in this practice can only come from regular meditation.
Meditation is not easy. Even advanced practitioners have a hard time getting their minds focused sometimes. The important thing to remember is that like yoga, meditation is a practice, needs training and some getting used to. There are books, apps and most of all, teachers. Apps are a great way to get started, but eventually nothing beats the guidance of an experienced meditation teacher. You may have experiences during your sessions and to have someone to explain the path and progress to you is the best way for you to advance your meditation.
So what I hope to do in my classes is to give people a glimpse of something other than a fit body. Something a little deeper than what we look like. Something more than getting your flow on. I want to show them a glimpse of stillness, emptiness, peace, serenity. A glimpse to all that is possible that we don’t realise when we live our day to day lives. A glimpse into bliss. And through that glimpse, a desire to look further, deeper and perhaps the realisation that all we ever need or want is already within us. That is all and that is enough.